Working with my morning class in the small, high ceilinged room in the urban mansion bought by English gentry to teach the families of the wealthy and aspiring business people English, the sounds of an armada of helicopters hovering over a nearby square could be heard. My students informed me that a demonstration was in train. When I walked out not long after to go to lunch, young fully armed storm troopers were alighting from a bus nearby and heading towards the demonstration.
I decided to head to a bar further away from the school than usual, to ‘Bar Stop’, a bar frequented by the expatriate ‘English teacher’ community. I needed to speak English. A teacher I didn’t know well was sitting at the bar. Looking up from the newspaper he was reading intently he made room for me to sit down. He looked relieved to see someone he knew, however vaguely. We talked, both grateful to be with someone ‘in our shoes’ with whom we could share our fears and gain strength and support. I suspect we drank more wine than usual with our coffee and tortilla lunch. We sat there, intensely discussing whether we should leave Spain; what this could mean in terms of broken contracts, lost ‘pagea (the amount taken out of our pay to be returned to us when our contract was successfully completed), and more. I can remember us both visibly shaking.
Still fearful if somewhat reassured, without time to return to my room for a siesta, I headed back to La Casa Inglesa for my afternoon class with six or seven young lawyers. I particularly enjoyed working with them – they were highly intelligent and very well briefed about matters political. They usually enjoyed drawing me out about politics to practise their English, often in a bar after class. However the past weeks had seen them coming to class discussing recent developments with great intensity. They shared with me their anger and sadness after five young left wing lawyers, some of whom they knew, had been murdered. I knew the day’s demonstration was a response to this event. They also surprised me when sharing the reason one of the class members had not been in class in recent weeks related to his being a young ‘Fuerza Nueva’ extreme right wing activist who had been caught using chains attacking communters in one of Madrid’s Metro stations as they returned home from work. I remain confused and bewildered by this.
That day, the day of the demonstration, nobody came to the afternoon class.
Further reading: https://elpais.com/elpais/2016/02/03/inenglish/1454496288_346509.html